10 Writing-Related Things that Look like Writing But Aren't

Sitting in writerly places like coffee shops and looking writerly (beret anyone?) is fun, but also not writing.  (Photo by Dc Lovensky on Unsplash)

On some days, I can work all day on writing and not get a lick of writing done. You know what I mean right? My work days are always spent with words – editing, reading, marketing, etc – but if I’m not careful, I’ll get to quitting time and find that not a bit of what I did actually resulted in any of my words on the page.

So for the sake of my own accountability and because I KNOW that some of you do the same thing, here are the top 10 things I do that make me feel like I’m doing the work when I’m really not:

  1. Reading books about writing. This is a big one for me. I can read book after book after how to write, when to write, the tricks of writing, the best ways to market my writing, and not write a word.
  2. Researching. Since much of what I write has a researched component, I can dedicated hours and hours of time to looking at archives, reading books about slavery, putting together family trees, and anything else that helps me gather facts that I might need for writing. This is still not writing.
  3. Preparing to write. Putting together my notes. Sketching an outline and then redoing it. Thinking through plot points and doing character sketches. All of this is good work, but it’s not the actual writing either.
  4. Journaling about writing. This one comes from Ashley, and I can relate completely. I can fill pages and pages and pages of my thoughts about what I’m going to write and why I’m going to write it . . . and then never write the actual thing.
  5. Preparing my writing space. I file papers. Put away books. Dust my desk. Reorganize my bulletin board. Vacuum. Do the dishes (because they invade my mental writing space.) Things can be spic and span, including the screen on which I need to put words.
  6. Talking about writing with other writers. In my job as an editor and writing coach, I do this a lot, and while it’s important and necessary for me to have community, it can also be one of the most effective ways for me to avoid doing the real work.
  7. Studying the business of writing. When I feel most discouraged by the way about book sales or client queries or anything else that is beyond my control, I have a tendency to devote my self to the business side of things almost entirely. When I do this, of course, I don’t write.
  8. Marketing my work. Studying how to sell more books, trying out lots of strategies for making sales, obsessing over my sales numbers, posting just one more time to social media – all those things get in the way of me actually doing my work.
  9. Thinking about what I will write. Sometimes, this looks like taking a walk or getting on my recumbent bike. Sometimes, it’s watching a movie for inspiration. Sometimes, it’s sitting on the coach and staring at the fire. All fine activities, and all not writing.
  10. Comparing myself to other writers. This activity not only sucks my time but also my steals my creative energy and belief in myself. When I lack those things, I don’t write.

Now, I’m not saying that all these things (except #10) aren’t necessary. In some measure, I need them all in my writing life, but they are no substitutes for the actual work of putting words to the page in such a way as to construct a complete piece of writing.  No amount of researching or marketing or chatting about the woes of the writing world produces a bit of writing. Only writing makes writing.  So I’m learning to put the writing first – I can fill in gaps, fix plot holes, researching marketing strategies, and talk about what I have done with writers AFTER the writing is finished. Until then, I’m just putting off the real, sometimes very hard work of doing what I love.

So do you relate? If so, what do you do that seems like writing but really isn’t?